Darin Killpartrick admitted his decision to leave the Rocks was the hardest one he’d ever had to make and said: I thought I might be at the club forever.
The man they call Dabba has stunned fans by announcing Saturday’s final game of the season at home to Dartford will be his last – although he has not ruled out a return to Nyewood Lane in the future.
He said he was ‘burned out’ a year ago after the Ryman premier promotion season and thought about leaving then, and was now so exhausted and in need of a break and more time to devote to his family and himself that staying on at Bognor was not an option.
Killpartrick played for the Rocks for three seasons in the 1990s and returned as coach in 2003. In the decade-and-a-half since has been coach, caretaker manager, manager and joint boss – and has become a legend in his own right among the club’s fans.
He told the Observer: “It’s the hardest decision I’ve had to make, though in another way, it was one I knew was coming.
“I’ve spoken to close and reliable friends and had been thinking about it for some time. I had burn-out at the end of last season and I suppose I might have gone then, but there was the carrot of the National League South ahead of us and I wanted to challenge myself.
“Recently I’ve known in my heart I needed a break. I coach with energy and enthusaism and try to capture the imagination of players I’m working with. I wanted to keep those levels up but I had nothing left.”
Killpartrick said he could look back with fondness and pride on his total of 18 years at Nyewood Lane, and was particularly proud of the number of yojng players he had developed who had gone on to serve Bognor well or play at higher levels of football.
Killpartrick was in many ways the club’s saviour in 2009 when financial troubles and managerial departures meant he had to step in as manager. He was assisted by the likes of Kevin Braybrook, Neil Cockroft and others to help keep the club afloat.
And he insisted it was not just this past difficult season, which will end on Saturday with the Rocks propping up the table, that had caused him to leave.
“There’s a jigsaw puzzle of reasons and the biggest one is that I’m tired – exhausted, burned out, more burned out than a year ago.
“With my day job at Chichester College, and the Rocks on top of that, you’re talking about a lot of 16-17 hour days. I’ve got my FA job too (coach of the England Colleges under-18 squad) and I’ve not had any time for my family or myself.
“I’ve been caught up in a whirlwind of emotions because I love the club so much and always want to give it 100 per cent.
“I need to recharge my batteries. Could I return to the club in the future? It’s possible, who knows. But for now I need to concentrate on myself a little more.”
Killpartrick paid a heartfelt tribute to Rocks manager Jack Pearce and does not want fans to blame him for his decision. “I have a huge amount of respect for him – apart from my father he’s probably the second most generous man I know.
“Without him I’d not be where I am now. He has supported me through hard times and I have done the same for him. Anyone who remortgages his house for a football club is an outstanding character. Without him Bognor would be two or three divisions lower than they are.”
Did Killpartrick ever think he’d be at Bognor forever? “I did, yes. Every time I drive up the lane to go into the ground I smile. Every time I walk around the ground I smile. I love the club, the people – it’s an incredible football club.”
Killpartrick, who turns 46 next week, told the players of his decision at Tuesdays night’s game against Chelmsford and said he thought they understood his wish for a break.
He said: “It will be nice to have the pressure off, to have more time for me and my family. Coaching a non-league football club can be a full-time job in itself.
“Even at the end of a season, you know it’s not long til you’re back in pre-season, three nights a week. It’s like a ferris wheel that never stops.”